The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

February 23, 2017

February 23, 1950

Rebecca Goldstein (February 23, 1950) is an American philosopher. Goldstein, according to a writeup in Edge was

....awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medal by President Obama,[and] is a philosopher, novelist, and professor of English and Philosophy at NYU. Her nonfiction works include Plato at the Googleplex; Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel; and Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. She is the author of six novels—The Mind-Body Problem, The Late-Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind, The Dark Sister, Mazel, Properties of Light, and 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction—and a collection of stories called Strange Attractors.

Among her honors are two Whiting awards, one in philosophy and one in writing, two National Jewish Book Awards, as well as the Koret International Award in Jewish Thought. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Radcliffe Fellow, and in 1996 she was named a MacArthur Foundation Fellow. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Goldstein came up with the idea of "mattering," an attempt to justify and still defang, the concept of egoism.
She writes:

We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter—though one has to be careful here to distinguish the relevant sense of “matter." Simply to take actions on the basis of desires is to act as if your life matters. It’s inconceivable to pursue a human life without these kinds of presumptions—that your own life matters to some extent. Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter. That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the mattering instinct normally functions. To be a fully functioning, non-depressed person is to live and to act, to take it for granted that you can act on your own behalf, pursue your goals and projects. And that we have a right to be treated in accord with our own commitment to our lives mattering. We quite naturally flare up into outrage and indignation when others act in violation of the presumption grounding the pursuance of our lives. So this is what I mean by the mattering instinct, that commitment to one’s own life that is inseparable from pursuing a coherent human life.


A recent work of fiction, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction (2011) gives us an example of her prose. A woman debates waking up her husband:

She herself would have snarled like a trodden cat if she was woken in the middle of the night because somebody with something to tell her couldn't control himself until morning.

Okay as prose, not so good as natural history: Rebecca Goldstein can't tell dogs from cats.  Dogs snarl; cats might hiss, but more likely would just scratch the offender.

Her husband also has some renown. His name is Steven Pinker.

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